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Barrister who switched from crime to family “was not on top of the rules”

Barrister: No ban on public access work

A barrister sanctioned for talking to the opposing lay client in the absence of their lawyer had switched from criminal to family law and “was simply not on top” of the rules, it has emerged.

We reported earlier this month [1] that Mariam El-Sobky was reprimanded, fined £2,000 and ordered to shadow an experienced family law practitioner for six months.

That person must then submit a certificate of competence to the Bar Standards Board.

The barrister, called in 2001, was acting for the respondent wife in family law proceedings. Two days before a hearing in May 2019, she went to the home where the wife lived with the applicant husband and spoke to him about the proceedings.

The full decision of the Bar disciplinary tribunal has now been published and it explained that she had spoken to the husband about the impact of his application on the family; he told the court that he felt under pressure to withdraw it.

It recorded: “The district judge took the view that [Ms El-Sobky’s] conduct was entirely inappropriate, as do we. He expressed a view that [she] could remain in the hearing but she could not take part. This left [her] client without effective representation.”

As a result, the hearing was adjourned and Ms El-Sobky fixed with a wasted costs order.

The tribunal said she had acted “out of concern for her client” but she had little experience of family law and “she was simply not on top of the applicable rules”.

It said the shadowing requirement would be akin to pupillage – two barristers had agreed to “act in a supervisory role to assist and guide” Ms El-Sobky.

It continued: “The purpose is to allow [her] to become more familiar and experienced with the applicable procedures and rules that must be followed in the field of family law.

“During her practice, [Ms El-Sobky] decided to change course. She had previously worked for the Crown Prosecution Service and was practising in criminal law.

“The tribunal was of the view that [she] had insufficient experience of the rules and procedures that apply in family law and the conduct that is expected of barristers who practise in that field.”

However, the tribunal decided not to stop the barrister taking public access instructions during the six months – her practice was largely made up of such cases and so “to restrict that would be tantamount to a suspension”.

It also acknowledged that Ms El-Sobky had already taken “some positive steps”, including a refresher course in public access work and further training and development, as well as finding a mentor.